Ask ELi: Walking Dogs Without Leashes?

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Sunday, February 17, 2019, 9:02 pm
By: 
Casandra Eriksen

ELi runs a regular column called Ask ELi to investigate in which we try to get answers to readers’ questions.

An ELi reader recently sent in this question: East Lansing has a leash law for dogs, but from the code I could find, it specifies that the leash can be “static or electric.” To me, an electric leash would seem to mean shock collar, so does that mean it’s legal to walk a dog with just a shock collar on? If not a shock collar, what is an “electric leash”?

The reader is referring to the City Code of Ordinances, Sec. 4-4. Part D, which states, “No person owning or in control of any dog shall allow the dog to enter upon any public sidewalk, street, or any other public property unless the dog is being held by a person with a leash or electric leash except as may be otherwise permitted by park rules.”

Dog parks allow for off-leash runs: In designated dog parks, dogs are allowed to run around without physical constraint as a general exception to the leash rule. Another exception to the leash ordinance occurs when the City hosts annual dog swim days at the Aquatic Center. However, in all other public places, including sidewalks in residential neighborhoods, dogs must be on leashes.

When owners may be ticketed: According to ELPD’s Sgt. Kristine Khoury, tickets may be issued in East Lansing when a dog is not under an owner’s control in a place where direct control is required. She indicated that such tickets address “failing to maintain control of the dog. Each case is different so it's difficult to speak on every instance.”

Shock collars are allowed: According to Khoury, dogs can be walked without a leash if they are wearing a shock collar: “As far as walking your dog with a shock collar, that is permitted. I have not heard of an electric leash other than the shock collar.” (A shock collar is a collar that can deliver electronic shocks to a dog when the owner presses different buttons on a remote-control device.)

One Council Member has spoken to this issue: In recent “Council Member comments,” Ruth Beier has taken time to stress that dogs should always be on leashes. She tells ELi in a follow-up exchange, “I walk my dogs (on leashes) every day. Quite often, I run into someone walking a dog off of a leash. When I tell them about our leash ordinance, they say ‘Don’t worry, my dog is nice.’”

Even though dogs off of leashes may be well behaved, Beier notes that they should still be on leashes for several reasons.

First, she notes, some dogs don’t like other dogs. Beier told ELi that if a dog that’s not on a leash approaches her dog, her control of her own dog is limited: “I can control my dog in the sense that she can never get away from me when I am walking her, but I can’t stop her from beating the snot out of another dog who runs up to her and comes within six feet of me.”

Beier also says that dogs should be on leashes to respect people that don’t like or are afraid of dogs: “When a ‘nice’ off-leash dog bounds up to a person who fears dogs, it does not matter how nice the dog is. People should be able to walk on the sidewalks without ever being approached by an off-leash dog.”

Beier acknowledges that shock collars “seem to be allowed by the ordinance,” but she considers them “inhumane.”

Some dog owners may argue that they are in control of their dog without a leash because their dog always comes when called. However, Beier said this shouldn’t be a reason to not have a leash: “Voice controlled off-leash dogs often lose control when they see a squirrel or another small animal. When they are in pursuit, they will cross streets and yards. They can be hit by passing cars or bikes.”

In summary: East Lansing law allows dogs to run without direct owner control on private property and in designated dog parks. Otherwise, dogs have to be under the owner’s control, either with a leash or a shock collar.

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